Murray State University is bracing for “a difficult legislative session” next year that could see another decline in state appropriation to higher education. In a ‘State of the University’ Address on Tuesday President Bob Davies touted recent successes and described ongoing pressures.
Davies praised faculty and staff for working towards the “Four Guiding Pillars” (see photo below) and noted gains in the national poll U.S. News & World Report. He said students and faculty netted more than $10 million in grants and that new students have the highest ACT average in recent history - and higher enrollment in the Honors College. He also pointed to gains in the retention rate (to nearly 75%) and the number of students gaining internship, co-op or clinical learning experience while pursuing their bachelor’s degree (nearly 50%).
Davies said the accomplishments come in “in a time of great turmoil and turbulence within the higher education landscape.” He said the ‘sea-change’ includes performance funding now in effect, an increasing emphasis on STEM-related programs, aligning bachelor’s degrees with job attainment (which Governor Matt Bevin has recently called for), the state’s ongoing pension crisis and the next budget.
“I will be very honest and very blunt. This legislative session will be among the most difficult in the history of the commonwealth,” he said, adding that there is a “high probability of a significant reduction” in state appropriation for higher education amounting to millions less for Murray State.
Gov. Bevin and lawmakers approved a 4.5% cut to state higher ed in the 2016 budget.
Davies said in addition to these potential reductions, the university is preparing for a pension cost increase, “...based on the recommendation of the State Budget Director, by $4.7 million in the upcoming fiscal year.” He also said further cost factors include enrollment changes, increased costs in health care, technology, utilities and other areas.
Despite a difficult legislative session, he said he is hopeful for some relief pertaining to the pension liability increase and that a request to fund infrastructure projects (electrical grid, steam plant maintenance, etc.) has been “well received.” University presidents have also requested additional funds for the performance model, he said. “I am meeting with our local legislators in their home districts and presenting the important case for higher education as well as several specific items for Murray State,” he said.
“We will be forced to make tough and arduous decisions between and among many priorities, projects and programs. As part of this, we will need to analyze how we provide necessary services and determine whether we need to do so utilizing different and new models,” he said.
Davies outlined work underway by academic and administrative units to design a rubric as a foundation for prioritization and budget-setting. This may include designing new programs to generate revenue, offering credentials as part of degree attainment and increasing online degree offerings. “We also need to ensure our resources are being aligned with student and regional demands,” he said.
Near the end of his address, he said events around the country “are being driven by rhetoric and vitriol that has the potential to divide each of us” and criticized the “war of words” for “advancing one agenda at the expense of others.” To combat this, he put forth the thought that a university community of scholars is one that is bound and united, advancing the attributes of “critical thought, global experiences, research and discovery, robust civil debate, logic and reasoning and effective communication.”
Watch the address: